Tue, 16 May 2023 at 4:42 pm BST
Sextortionists who allegedly drove a South Carolina teenager to suicide sent a sickening message to his grieving father gloating about his death while threatening to release nude photos and demanding money.
South Carolina state representative Brandon Guffey told CNN he received the anonymous Instagram message on what would have been his son Gavin’s 18th birthday, which said: “Did I tell you your son begged for his life,” followed by a laughing face emoji.
Mr Guffey told the network Gavin had been blackmailed after scammers posing as a young girl tricked him into sending a nude picture.
The 17-year-old recent high school graduate sent $25 by Venmo to the blackmailers, everything he had in his account, while begging for more time to raise extra cash.
The lawmaker said in interviews he found his son’s body in the bathroom of the family’s home in Rock Hill on 27 July last year after hearing him fall to the floor.
Mr Guffey, who was running for state office at the time, said he was unaware his son was being extorted and initially blamed himself for leaving a gun out.
The blackmail plot was revealed when sextortionists began bombarding the family with Instagram messages demanding more money or they would release the intimate photos.
Mr Guffey said scammers had used disappearing messages to make his son believe that the pictures would be deleted.
“What they don’t realise is, someone has another device recording that device,” he said.
“If you can extort 10 teenage boys that aren’t gonna say anything for $100 each, and do all that with one image that you got from a girl, it’s fairly simple.”
After considering dropping out of the election, Mr Guffey was elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives in November.
His first act was to draw up a bill criminalising sextortion, called “Gavin’s Law”, which would see scammers who extort a minor face up to five years in prison for a first offence.
It passed the state house unanimously, and last Thursday the state Senate voted to approve the bill. It will soon be sent to Governor Henry McMaster to be signed into law.
Mr Guffey told CNN he would never recover from the grief of losing his son to suicide, but whenever he needs strength, he puts on Gavin’s white Vans sneakers, which are scribbled with a doodle of his son’s favorite character Spider-Man.
“I feel like (Gavin) would want me trying to save additional kids from ever having to feel the way that he felt at that time,” he said.
In December, the FBI issued a national public safety alert to warn parents after seeing a tenfold increase in online sexual blackmail cases.
According to the FBI, at least 3,000 children were victims of sextortion plots that were connected to more than a dozen suicides in 2022.
Most of the victims were teenage boys, with kids as young as 10 being targeted.
“Victims may feel like there is no way out — it is up to all of us to reassure them that they are not in trouble, there is hope, and they are not alone,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray in a statement at the time.
The FBI told CNN that no arrests have been made in connection with Gavin’s death.
If you are experiencing feelings of distress and isolation, or are struggling to cope, call National Suicide Prevention Helpline on 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The Helpline is a free, confidential crisis hotline that is available to everyone 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If you are in another country, you can go to www.befrienders.org to find a helpline near you.
If you are based in the UK, the Samaritans offers support; you can speak to someone for free over the phone, in confidence, on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email email@example.com, or visit the Samaritans website to find details of your nearest branch.